By Alan Sorensen
Normalized trade relations with China took a decidedly local turn last December when Kraig and Kelli Van Voast returned from a two-week trip to the Asian nation with a new daughter.
The adoption of tiny Lainee, who turned 20 months on Wednesday, took nearly that many months from start to finish.
"We had two kids and we thought we were done," Kraig Van Voast said. "Kelli couldn't have anymore babies, but her friends were still having kids, and our next option was adoption."
The Van Voasts began checking out adoption alternatives in September 1998, just about the time that Lainee Qiu Xing was born, Sept. 24, 1998, in the city of Hefei in the province of Anhui in east central China.
"We looked into adoption and international seemed to be the best, having had two kids," Van Voast said.
The first country the family looked at in their adoption quest was Korea, which had been a leading adoption country for years. Korea has tightened its restrictions in recent years. Two of those restrictions call for people to adopt only special needs children post-adoption monitoring. Montana doesn't have an international adoption placing agency to facilitate monitoring, so the Van Voasts looked elsewhere.
"We looked at South America," Van Voast said. "We talked with the Klimases (Charlie and Ann Klimas of Havre); they had two.
"Then we thought we'd like to stay with an Asian child."
China seemed the logical choice for a number of reasons. Unlike other countries that require the adoptive parents to remain in country for 30 days, China requires a stay of only two weeks. Also, they wanted a girl and China deals almost exclusively in girls.
The Van Voasts found an adoption agency in Portland, Ore. that is run by a woman who came to America from China.
"She grew up in China," Van Voast said. "She knows where to go and where not to go."
The Van Voasts made all the preparations they could on this side of the Pacific before heading for Asian. They lined up Kelli's mother, Pam Davidson of Chinook, and April Southworth, Kelli's assistant with her in-home daycare, to watch after the kids while they were away. Jordan, a third-grader, and Ashlynn, a kindergartner, both attended school during the week at Highland Park School and went to stay with grandmother in Chinook on weekends.
"We had a lot of friends who helped out, too," Kelli Van Voast said.
Kraig wrapped up his photography jobs and took time off from his job with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation office in Havre.
Then, on Dec. 5, 1999, the couple joined 29 other adopting parents on a nonstop flight to China in search of their children. The Van Voasts and 15 others ended up in Hefei or Hofei, formerly known as Luchow, a city of nearly half a million people in the province of Anhui or Anhwei. In the process, the Van Voasts have developed lasting relationships with some of the other parents from from New Hampshire to California.
"One of the families is coming this summer to see us, with their little girl," Kelli said, "from Portland, Ore."
On Dec. 8, the day they arrived in Hefei, they signed the adoption papers and Lainee became their daughter. The rest of their two-week stay in Hefei was like a vacation, they said. They went sightseeing and spent time getting to know Lainee. Van Voast said he was particularly impressed with the number, quality and pristine condition of automobiles on the roads in China.
Coming from a country with barely 200 years history, the Van Voasts said they were impressed with China, a country with 5,000 years of history. "We felt very comfortable," Kraig said. "The traffic was amazing; the drivers are great, and we got in a lot of sightseeing."
The Van Voasts also went through the process of getting Lainee all of her shots and other items of business taken care of for the trip to her new home in Havre.
The Van Voasts returned to Havre on Dec. 19 and got Lainee home in time for a Christmas. They said they were fortunate that the Chinese officials expedited the process and helped them get back on time.
"They had to get us out because the Chinese government shuts down for a month over the new year," Kraig said.
Lainee's had five months getting used to her new family and new surroundings and appears to be an integral part of a loving family.
"She has no problems," Kraig said as Lainee took time out from playing with her new brother and sister to smile into a photographer's lens. "I think she's going to be a camera girl."
"She fits right in," Kelli said. "The kids really enjoy her."
Jordan and Ashlynn appear happy to have Lainee in the family and played quietly with her during the newspaper interview with their parents Wednesday.
But Jordan did have one request for his parents.
"You'll have to take us next time."